Monday, July 03, 2006


'Great Game' still offers no winners

I've always felt a bit foolish about my views on the war in Afghanistan. Back in October 2001, on the eve of the US-UK attempt to avenge 9-11 by wiping out the Taliban in general and Bin Laden in particular I was opposed to the whole enterprise. I was appalled by the attack on the twin towers and expected the US to indulge in retaliatory actions but I was very worried at the decision to target the land of the Khyber Pass.

The local radio, GMR, asked me to do an interview on the issue of the day and I duly sat in the studio warning of the dire dangers of intervention; the breaching of the normal rule that nation states hold back from intervening in the internal affairs of others. Warming to my theme I pointed out that every invader of this mountainous, inhospitable country- Aryans, Macedonians, Greeks,Russians, Britons, the USSR- had found after a few years that they had to withdraw with ignominy. The Great Game fought by Russia and Britain to dominate this crossroads country produced no winner(on this see here). On balance, I confidently asserted, this was a bad move which we would come bitterly to regret. Then came the invasion and the deceptively easy victory over the Taliban forces by western forces in alliance with the Northern Alliance culminating in the enthonement of that nice Mr Karzai with his fashionable green cape and I began to think I was out of touch with the modern world.

I was pleased so few listen to GMR and was even mildly optimistic at the outset that the invasion of Iraq would prove similarily successful. But now I feel my doubts were all too well founded. It is generally better to stay out of other peoples' fights, especially Middle Eastern ones. And the curse of Afghanistan appears to be returning. Our 3000 plus troops, recently sent in to help fight the resurgent Taliban, may find they are faced with a slow death by bleeding over an indefinite period. William Hague is quite right to question the rationale for our troops deployed in this unhappy region. His questions focus on how self defeating is our effort to win hearts and minds when we propose at the same time to curtail their chief source of income: poppy cultivation for the production of opium.

Des Browne and Margaret Beckett insist we are merely 'peace-keeping' in response to the government in Kabul but we all know it is Washington from where the real invitation came. Like US-UK troops in Iraq our boys are now trapped in a fearsome place with little hope of any early return ticket. Nobody is talking about exit strategies yet but I wager it will only take a few more deaths and as many months before this issue tops the 'permanent crisis' agenda along with Iraq.

Absolutely 100% spot on Skipper. The only way they achieved their initial objective was shock and awe, and the support of the warlords. The warlords wanted rid of the puritanical taliban in order to rebuild their drug trade. It is very similar in covert strategy terms to the whole Columbian drug fiasco throughout central and southern america when Ronnie was prepared to countenance drug production and importation in return for gangsterism in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico etc.

If the soviets with their massive resources could get a kicking, then our few measley troops, whatever the US can spare and the UN chipping in... haven't got a prayer. Grab them by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow only works if you've got a tight grip on the balls.
Is it really better to keep out of other peoples' fights? Was it wrong for Vietnam to oust Pol Pot? Was it wrong to intervene in Kosovo? Was it wrong to declare war on Germany for invading Belgium, or Poland? Was it wrong to remove the taliban who denied health and education to women and girls? When the cause is right, descent and just the world should not stand aside. What did Oscar Schindler say? "when people behave like pigs, you have to do something."
I said that it is 'generally' better to stay out but have previously supported those rare occasions like Kosovo, when something can and should be done.
dreadnought... good point, but when countries intervene for their own strategic and economic interests, as opposed to humanitarian concern for those they 'save' we are entitled to question their motives. Mugabwe must be eternally grateful that he is not sitting on massive oil reserves or his arse would have been out of the door long ago.
One thing that tends to get overlooked by just about everyone is that fact that, up to a point, the current mess in Afghanistan is largely a result of the West's decision to abandon the country to the tender mercies of the ISI back in the early '90's. That... and the fact that the Soviet invasion destroyed Afghanistan's economy and social structure. It's really not the same place as it was in the 19th century.

Most of Afghanistan is, by the standards of the past thirty or so years anyway, quite peaceful, especially the north; but in some respects peace never really came to the far south-east where the Taliban were never properly defeated (they just melted away).

They've been a lot more active again for at least a year now; and for the time-being there's no real prospect of them taking over the country again... they were never very popular, even early on (they only swept all before them in the '90's because the Warlords were too busy blowing the **** out of each other to notice what was going on; exactly what has just happend in Somalia interestingly enough) and never had much of a mass-following; most Talibs were brainwashed kids from the refugee camps in Northern Pakistan.

But, yes, it is innacurate to call what's going on at the moment "peace-keeping"; containment would be more accurate. And it won't end for a very long time.
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